By Deanna LeBlanc
BURLINGTON, Vt. -June 20th is World Refugee Day, honoring the millions of people who have left their homes during times of unrest to seek safety in other countries. Thursday at Burlington’s City Hall three refugees shared their stories of and survival.
Yusuf Abdi’s remembered his childhood in Somalia as normal. His father was an officer in the army and his mother was a beautician at the most popular hotel in the country.
“We used to have every normal things as everybody do here,” Abdi explained.
But, in the 1990s the Somali Civil War changed his life. Abdi recounted stories of the militia raiding his school, and in college, he said a missile landed inside his classroom.
“It was something you can’t imagine. It’s what I can say, a man-made disaster.”
War — or as he called it — a man-made disaster, tore apart his family. His father was assassinated by his own body guards in front of Abdi and his siblings. The 31-year-old eventually sought refuge in the United States. His siblings and mother are now living in various countries around the world. Abdi said it is hard being without them.
“I am safe now, I am working, I have a job, but I’m only just myself. I’ll show you the picture — how it’s important being with your family and how it’s difficult to be by yourself,” Abdi said, holding up a picture of his family at a birthday party.
Abdi’s story is not unique. Each year 70,000 to 80,000 refugees begin new lives in the United States. 325 of them settle in Vermont annually.
“Everything is different: the food, the people, the language, the housing, everything is different,” explained Judy Scott of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, which hosted the event.
The V.R.R.P. helps refugees find housing, jobs, and even doctors, and to learn English. Scott invited Abdi and others to share their stories on Thursday for World Refugee Day.
“For those born in this country it’s an opportunity to listen, to learn, to understand, and I hope to figure out some ways to prevent the things that have forced them to become refugees,” Scott explained.
Abdi sends part of every paycheck to his mother. He says though he misses his family, Vermont is beginning to feel like home.
“This was my first birthday in the United States,” Abdi said, holding up a picture of his first birthday party in Vermont. “So this is my new life — the beginning of my new life.”
For Abdi, it was a picture of new friends and a symbol of a new life.
Most of the work done by the Vermont Refugee Resettlement program is through the help of volunteers and donations.